Martha Gellhorn, third wife of Ernest Hemingway and a well-known war correspondent, wrote (The Face of War) of her visit to the Ardennes front and the breakthrough to Bastogne in January 1945 :
“…The road to Bastogne had been worked over by Ninth Air Force Thunderbolts before the Third Army tanks [under Patton] finally cleared the way. A colleague and I drove up to Bastogne on a secondary road through breath-taking scenery. The Thunderbolts had created this scenery. You can say the words “death and destruction” and they don’t mean anything. But they are awful words when you are looking at what they mean.
There were some German staff cars along the side of the road. They had not merely been hit by machine gun bullets; they had been mashed into the ground. There were half tracks and tanks literally wrenched apart, and a gun position hit directly by bombs. All around these lacerated or flattened objects of steel there was the usual riff-raff: papers, tin cans, cartridge belts, helmets, an odd shoe, clothing. There were, also, ignored and completely inhuman, the hard frozen corpses of Germans.
…We had watched the Thunderbolts working for several days. They flew in small packs and streaked in to the attacks in single file. They passed quickly through the sky and when they dived you held your breath and waited: it seemed impossible that the plane would be able to pull itself up to safety. They were diving to within 60 feet of the ground.
The snub-nosed Thunderbolt is more feared by the Germans than any other plane.”
Gellhorn was a frequent visitor to the Hell Hawks’ base, and even flew over the front in one of the 365th Fighter Group’s 2-seat P-47s. Some of the men resented her presence; others winked at the celebrity hoopla and Gellhorn’s friendly relationship with their commander, Col. Ray J. Stecker. Gellhorn had friends among the pilots wherever she went, and respected their work. Her book captures the destruction along the front and the attitudes of the men who rained such devastation on the heads of the Wehrmacht.
How the Hell Hawks saw the fighting in the Bulge occupies two chapters in Hell Hawks! — now the best-selling title at the National Air & Space Museum.
Jack Knutson says
I’ve read the book twice over a long period and it is still gripping.